23 May 2007

newbigin on election

I find inspiration in the writings of the great Reformed missionary, theologian, and ecumenist, Lesslie Newbigin.

Newbigin prepared his volume, The Household of God during a furlough in 1952. The chapters were written as the Kerr Lectures on "the nature of the church," presented at Trinity College in Glasgow, Scotland. The under-appreciated book deserves a wide audience and stands as one of the definitive works of Reformed ecclesiology in the past century.

In the past few weeks of church and small group we've been moving though the later chapters of John's Gospel, in particular Jesus' upper room discourse. God's choice of disciples is a theme in John, and in the parable of the vine, Jesus says, "You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last" (15:16).

Newbigin comments on election in Household of God intersect with this text and came to mind. He writes:
No one can say why it is that one was chosen and another not, why it is that here the word came "not only in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost" (1 Thess. 1:5), while there the same word carried no regenerating power. The answer to that question is known only to God. But if we cannot know for what reason one was chosen, we can most certain know for what purpose he was chosen: he was chosen in order to be a fruit-bearing branch in the one true vine (John 15:16), a witness through whom others might be saved. He is chosen in order that through him God's saving purpose may reach to others, and they too be reconciled to God in and through His reconciled and reconciling people...

And we can also see that wherever the missionary character of the doctrine of election is forgotten; wherever it is forgotten that we are chosen in order to be sent; wherever the minds of believers are concerned more to probe backwards from their election into the reasons for it in the secret counsel of God than to press forward from their election to the purpose of it, which is that they should be Christ's ambassadors and witnesses to the ends of the earth; wherever men think that the purpose of election is their own salvation rather than the salvation of the world; then God's people have betrayed their trust.
All I can add is, let's happily and warmly embrace the doctrines of grace, but let's make sure that we do so with the same missional accent that they receive in God's self-revelation in Scripture.